Mediterranean: Refugees and migrants forced to disembark ship, return to unsafe conditions in Libya

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

On November 20, 2018, Libyan security forces forcibly disembarked 81 refugees and migrants who remained on the Panamean-flagged cargo ship Nivin. The ship had been docked in the commercial port of Misrata since November 10, when 97 people aboard a rubber boat in distress were rescued in international waters by the Nivin while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Upon being docked in the port, 95 of the people who had been picked up refused to leave the ship in fear for their safety if returned to Libya.

Among the group forcibly disembarked, there were more than 20 minors, people who reported having been victims of trafficking and torture, and others who declared to have been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Between November 11 and 18, prior to the forcible disembarkment, MSF medical staff carried out more than 90 medical consultations onboard the Nivin. On November 14, 14 vulnerable people left the Nivin and were transferred to a detention center. The rest of the group continued to refuse to disembark in Libya for fears of having to face arbitrary detention and other dangers they have experienced first-hand during their time in the country.

Julien Raickman, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) head of mission in Libya, made the following statement today:

“We have not had access to any members of the group previously onboard the Nivin. We are not authorized to see patients we had previously been able to treat and follow up, and we are extremely concerned by the lack of official information regarding their current location and medical status.

“The initial group of 97 persons onboard the Nivin should not have been returned to Misrata but brought to a port of safety in accordance with international and maritime laws. Based on UNHCR official positioning, Libya cannot be considered as such.

“We are appalled to see that over the last 10 days, despite our repeated calls to avoid a violent outcome, no compromise was reached to implement an alternative to detention. What happened instead has, once again, demonstrated the failure to provide much-needed protection for people seeking safety. 

“The reality today is that people being intercepted at sea and brought back to Libyan shores in violation of international law and maritime conventions are left with no other option than indefinite arbitrary detention. This tragic situation is the result of deliberate and concerted efforts by Europe to prevent refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers from reaching its doorsteps at any cost. Most recently, Italy went a step further in branding people who flee for their lives and those who assist them as criminals by requesting the seizure of the MSF and SOS Mediterranee-operated rescue boat Aquarius for alleged anomalies in its disposal of on-board waste. This follows two years of smear campaign, judicial investigations, and bureaucratic obstacles against our humanitarian work.”